A Public Dialogue on Education

First Published: 2010-09-18

The views expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Nassau Institute (which has no corporate view), or its Advisers or Directors.

 

 

Yesterday at the Bahamian Forum the Hon. Desmond Bannister, Minister of Education, spoke on “The State of Education in the Bahamas” and the author as first responder commented as follows:

The learning crisis in public education has developed over decades and has its roots in the culture and institutions of the country. This is unfortunate in that change will disturb all those whose self-interest is aligned with the present system. This certainly includes the teachers’ union and some teachers, administrators, politicians, parents and students. 

The reality is that education reform…because of the scarcity of quality teachers… needs 10 to 12 years to implement and up to 30-35 years to see its full impact on the public welfare. 

However…an inspiring improvement in academic test scores can appear rather quickly.  

In this connection there are three long-term objectives that should be considered by the Ministry of Education.  

 

First Objective. Public education must be perceived as an opportunity…and neither as an entitlement…nor as a child-tending public service.

  • At present every parent is required only to cause his child to attend school from his 5th to 16th year of age. He can be penalized only if his child fails to attend; the student can be expelled before his 16th year of age only if he commits a felony; and while in school, social promotion naturally follows student failure. 

  • At present the Department of Education is required to provide both space and instruction for that student; and teachers are “public servants” that have the de facto life-time employment protections presently afforded to public servants.

These performance standards are a formula for failure because they demand so little. 

The proposed standards would employ the “Broken Window” theory with high expectations, positive and realistic responsibilities for parents, students and teachers…and consequences for non-performance. 

For the high school student, for instance, this would include expulsion for infractions against the standards of acceptable behavior.

 

Second Objective. Create a new standard for teacher recruitment, training and retention because –

“The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” 

It would require all teaching candidates to have a BA degree or its equivalent in an academic subject other than Teachers Education before the candidate enters teacher training; and the consequences for the country are likely to be high quality teaching instruction, fewer but more qualified and more highly paid teachers and better students.

 

Third Objective. Create two new institutions like the one included in the July 2005 Report of the Coalition for Education Reform and in all formal reports since then. That is a Government-owned privately-operated charter school, a college preparatory school with high performance standards open to students in the public school system. This education alternative has been a success elsewhere. 

Likewise, the second institutionwould be a new charter school or schools on a second  educational track, an exciting alternative to the regular high school, one with a concentration on vocational and academic basics.

Many will say “It won’t happen here” or  “It’s not the Bahamian way.” 

But…they are the building blocks…that is if Bahamians want to “Go for the Gold in Education”.

 

In his response the Minister –

  1. Corrected the author’s statement that a student could only be expelled before his 16th year of age for felonious behavior; and 

  2. Contended that the record of “Government-owned privately-operated” charter schools was so poor as to cause the Ministry to reject this policy proposal. 

Subsequently, the author expressed his disagreement on the latter point; and both agreed to meet and discuss this issue further. 

The Forum was a success and confirmed the value of such public forums.

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